When we want to hear songs spilling over with bruised emotion and intimate personal revelations, Bob Dylan is not who we usually turn to. Dylan’s not one of those guys who constantly mines his own inner life for material. Dylan has better things to write about than his stupid feelsies. But even the mighty break down sometimes. Facing an oncoming d.i.v.o.r.c.e. even Bob Dylan finds that his heart is suddenly right there on his sleeve, bleeding all over the place.
I’ve always wondered where Bob Dylan thinks he’s going, and what he’s planning to do down in that valley. It feels like a fragment of some larger epic journey. There’s something heroic and tragic about it. He is on a quest of some kind; like Odysseus, he’s waylaid by a beautiful, mysterious stranger; she is a goddess with her own path to follow; who knows how long they’ve dallied together but now she must let him go. But first a little coffee for the road. It’s the mundane detail of the coffee that really makes the story – epic tales are nothing but bluster without the mundane to bring them to life. Now mind you, Bob Dylan doesn’t usually capture my imagination quite this way. Sure, plenty of his songs are epic and full of their own mythology, but they’re also willfully obtuse, jokey, satirical. It’s hard to interpret Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream as a hero quest; more like a buffoon’s comic picaresque. But this is a serious song here, a real hero quest, perhaps an allegory for the trajectory of life, perhaps just spilled over with sadness from a man freshly divorced. Anyhow you look at it, it’s a different level for Dylan. And, as with many of Dylan’s songs, other singers have hit it out of the ballpark, especially those with superior vocal abilities, i.e. Jack White, Robert Plant.
Bob Dylan, the cantankerous weird old man of rock and roll, is sometimes most surprising when he’s at his least bizarre. Here he is what a totally non-cryptic tuneful song about romance in a tropical paradise. Based, apparently on no more of a concept than finding words that rhyme with “-ique”. That’s almost Cat in the Hat-ish. Sitting as it does amidst some pretty heavy material, I think this was frankly meant as a palate cleanser. Desire and Blood on the Tracks are basically the same album; they could’ve been released as a double. In my mind, I often confuse which songs are which record. I think the best songs of both should be put together into a third, even better, album. One thing they share is being depressing and heavy on the divorce songs. So it’s refreshing to hear, every once in a while, about “magic in a magical land.”